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Secure your Facebook account, fix apps first

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Washington : An interface created by researchers for Facebook apps could help members prevent leakage of personal information to hackers and identity thieves.

“One illusion is that people think that they have set global privacy settings, so it’s secure,” said Heng Xu, assistant professor of information sciences and technology at the Penn State.


“But the broken element is in the third-party applications that people use to play games and interact in different ways with each other on Facebook,” added Xu, who led the study.

Xu says many Facebook app developers try to make money from their games and tools by selling or sharing the data with advertisers and other companies, according to a Penn statement.

“The only way to find out how the information is going to be used is to go to each app’s website and review the terms of use,” Xu said. “And many people won’t do that.”

Members who sign up for an app must agree to new terms of information disclosure that are often different from their main Facebook privacy settings when they sign up for an app, Xu said.

The sign-up screen currently is a general agreement that shows information third-party developers are requesting. If the member does not agree, the member cannot use the app.

The screen designed by the researchers allows members to decide what types of information they are comfortable sharing and with whom they want to share it.

Xu, who worked with Na Wang and Jens Grossklags, assistant professor, both of information sciences and technology, designed two alternative third-party privacy agreement screens to clearly show members what data and privacy details they agree to share.

These findings were presented at the Association for Computer Machinery Symposium on Computer Human Interaction for Management of Information Technology, Boston.

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